Marco Against Brazil In World Cup 2018 IMG

World Cup Recap: Best Group Stage Ever?

Forty-eight matches over a two-week span. Hopefully, you enjoyed it. The salad days of the 2018 World Cup are coming to an end with the final whistle of the group stages. And our best soccer days are now behind us.

Sure, the knockout stages get us one step closer to a champion – a new champion with Germany headed home. But the group stages of the World Cup are really the ideal world. A world where there is a minimum of three matches on per day, everyday, for two weeks. That's a world I want to live in.

Did I watch every single match? Let’s be honest, some of those 5am starts were rough. But just knowing there is soccer on somewhere was comforting.

Before the depression of having no matches today sets in, I want to take a moment to dwell on the better times. Times like Marco Ureña becoming the first LAFC player to play in a World Cup match.

The Costa Rican striker is coming home after the minimum number of matches, as the Ticos didn’t surprise anyone this tournament like they did in Brazil in 2014. They still played their brand of energetic, hard-running counterattack soccer. But unlike 2014, the goals never came. And when you expend that much energy with no reward, you tend to pay the price. Regardless, Ureña cemented his place in Club history…

… along with Carlos Vela. Mexico got off to a flying start against the reigning champs with a stunning 1-0 win. Vela was arguably El Tri’s best player in that match, if not the most important. His ability to dictate play on the counter, in addition to his marking of Toni Kroos for an hour, was key to Mexico’s game plan.

Then against South Korea, Vela got his goal. His first in the biggest tournament on the planet and the first goal scored in a World Cup by an LAFC player. It was also only the second goal scored at a World Cup by a player from MLS not playing for the U.S. National Team. And speaking of first goals…

… Leo Messi waited until the third match to score his first goal of the tournament. But what a goal it was.

From the understanding with Ever Banega, it was as if all Messi had to do was lift and eyebrow and midfielder knew he was running in behind, to that first touch off his left thigh, only to be outdone a fraction of second later when his second touch cradled the ball ever so gently to the ground, and finally a finish with his weaker foot – as if Messi actually has a weaker foot. And still, Argentina needed help to avoid an early exit. Which would have been a surprise, but wasn’t really a surprise…

… just like Croatia and Senegal playing well in the tournament. Senegal is going home because of one of the more archaic tiebreakers in the FIFA system, but their play shouldn’t really be a surprise when you look at their roster. They have a center back in Kalidou Koulibaly that has been the best defender in Seria A for the last two years. And Saido Mané leads the attack, with Keita Balde and M’Baye Niang as his sidekicks.These are players in the best leagues in the world, not some underdogs. Same for Croatia. A midfield of Luka Modrić and the two Ivans, Rakitić and Perišić, is not to be taken lightly. And with Mario Mandžukić playing battering ram up top for those attackers to slip in behind, Croatia’s perfect record in the tournament so far makes perfect sense...

... like Cristiano Ronaldo continuing to score in the big moments. The man lives for the spotlight - for better or for worse. His hat trick against Spain made even more mythical by the way he capped it off. That free kick, down a goal, with just under two minutes to play in regular time, has to be one of the goals of the tournament when you consider all the circumstances.

But with the World Cup dormant today, it’s less about making sense and more about getting through these 24 hours. How did they manage to make Friday the least fun day of the week? Maybe you needed to catch your breath. But I’m just a little down today.

At least it’s just one day.

 

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